The plethora of crime stories is such that, in order to succeed, they must either follow a well-trodden narrative path and do so extremely well, or run with a high concept and hope for the best. Having the word ‘girl’ in the title doesn’t hurt. Readers are familiar with genre tropes, to the point of being high-functioning literary detectives, ready to sniff out lapses in logic and to scream at the page (or at a screen) when a plot goes haywire. Treat aficionados of crime fiction with contempt, and you’re dead in the water.
Building a novel around a single concept is risky and difficult to pull off. In choosing this route, Northern Irish débutant James Delargy quickly writes himself into a corner in 55 (Simon & Schuster, $29.99 pb, 426 pp, 9781471184635). The idea must have seemed genius at the time. A battered man called Gabriel wanders into a police station in the remote Pilbara town of Wilbrook. Appearing terrified, he claims to have just escaped from the clutches of an outback serial killer named Heath, who was about to make Gabriel victim number fifty-five. Shortly thereafter, another injured man is led into the station by a local who caught him trying to steal his car. His name is Heath, and he claims to have just escaped from a serial killer called Gabriel, who – well, you get the idea.